Work in Sports
NORTHWEST DIVISION |
1 Colorado Avalanche
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster | 1999-2000 Player Stats
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 1
By Kostya Kennedy
There was the late-night bus ride back to the hotel and then the gathering of the sundry items -- toothbrushes, combs, pajama bottoms -- that the Avalanche players had believed they would need for at least one more trip. The players zipped their suitcases in silence and then trundled en masse out of the hotel and back onto the bus. Before long they were rising into the darkness on a charter plane bound for Denver, staring soberly out at the Dallas lights receding beneath them. "It was an awful night," says left wing Dave Reid. "We were supposed to be going to New Jersey the next day for the finals. We were not supposed to be coming home."
For all their success last season -- the Avalanche won its sixth straight division title, played in the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in five years and acquired Raymond Bourque for its defense -- the team arrived in training camp haunted by that dreary May 27 night when its season ended with a 3-2 loss to the Stars in Game 7 of the conference finals. "It was the most frustrating loss I've had since I began running the team," says Pierre Lacroix, who's entering his seventh season as Colorado's general manager. "We're not shy about saying this: The better team lost."
Lacroix has a case. Colorado dropped Games 4 and 5 of that series despite outshooting the Stars by a combined 70-35, and the Avalanche's multifaceted offense was often thwarted only by the near flawless play of Dallas goalie Ed Belfour. Yet is it coincidence that this was the second year in a row that Colorado bowed out in Game 7 in Dallas? Does this team, which fell behind 3-0 in a match it needed to win to go to the finals, have the mettle to be a champion? "When you lose you come back for revenge," says Avalanche center Peter Forsberg. "There's only one team that wins [the Cup], and we have to make sure we're that team this time."
To a man his teammates echo Forsberg's single-mindedness, and that's why, along with the fact that Colorado has All-Star-caliber depth at every position, the Avalanche is our pick to win the Stanley Cup this season. Colorado last won in 1996, yet its near misses since then have given it the hunger of a long-starved team. "We're impatient," says center Chris Drury. "There are guys in this room who won't be here forever."
If last season's failure weren't motivation enough, how's this to lend a sense of urgency: Three of the Avalanche's five most important players may be a long way from Denver by this time next year. Forsberg, the game's best forward after the Penguins' Jaromir Jagr, and top-tier defenseman Adam Foote will almost certainly be back, but what about these three players?
Patrick Roy. He's 35, has won three Cups in 15 seasons and is on the verge of becoming the NHL's alltime winningest goalie. Roy, who was 32-21-8 with a 2.28 goals-against average last season, is still one of the best in the game, yet his mobility has decreased noticeably in recent years, which is why he shed 12 pounds in the off-season. "This is an important year," says Roy. In July, Roy will be an unrestricted free agent, and so far he has not been offered a contract extension by the team.
Joe Sakic. He's the team captain and perhaps the game's top offensive center. At 31, he's got plenty of dazzling hockey left in him, but where will he be playing? Sakic, who had 81 points in 60 games last season, becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and says he doesn't want to negotiate until next summer. Lacroix feels sure that Sakic will test the market.
Bourque. Well into the evensong of his marvelous but Cupless 21-year career, the five-time Norris Trophy winner came back from the brink of retirement at 39 for a final run at the holy grail. It was a Bourque shot with 12 seconds left in that fateful Game 7 against Dallas that wing Adam Deadmarsh deflected past Belfour, only to have the puck glance off the post.
Moments later Colorado's season was over, and the players solemnly left the ice to begin the long trek home. "None of us have forgotten that night," says Drury. "We don't plan on going through that again.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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